Alistair Noon was born in 1970 and grew up in Aylesbury. Besides time spent in Russia and China, he has lived in Berlin since the early nineties, where he works as a professional translator. His poetry and translations from German and Russian have appeared in nine chapbooks from small presses. Earth Records (Nine Arches Press, 2012) is his first full-length collection.
“Alistair Noon’s Earth Records presents the poet as a truly global citizen with a passport for anywhere in time and any place with darkening city streets, restaurants only the locals know about and the crumbling facades of history flickering behind modernity’s bright new colour schemes.
Noon’s precise attention to sound and form creates a bittersweet and infectious musicality as he explores the holiday plans of poets, the strata of old and new Europe, shifting tectonic plates in the Soviet Union and China and the poet’s place within or without it all.”
– Kelvin Corcoran
“This is genuinely terrific writing, of wonderfully gratifying complexity. There’s no one else, to my limited knowledge at least, who is taking on these big questions – with so many terms of reference. It’s work that draws me back, which is something that real poetry demands.”
– Tom Lowenstein
“Alistair Noon’s poetry is important because he is one of the younger poets who are working on the regeneration of a central space without which the whole cannot be an open field. Instead of a ditch between two extremist positions with their weapons pointing at each other, we are offered a freedom to roam, and a refusal to be bullied into false choices. The bite of modernism shorn of academic mysticism cohabits contentedly with lyrical plain speaking. Urban realism is his entry to this discovery, directly experienced, the signposts of our conditions ruthlessly catalogued as they fall before his eyes, and the whole of Europe is the theatre at his command.”
– Peter Riley
Li Bai on a Quiet Night
Bright moonlight in front of a bed —
perhaps just frost on the ground.
A raised head gazes at the moon,
sinks, and thinks of home.
Dozing in a moonlit berth,
you might ponder what home is worth
as your eyes float out of the porthole,
where an old sailor circles the earth.
Moonlight and frost have bled
to the path your eyes will tread.
The bright lamp navigates no one
back to their abandoned bed.
The cold and dark surround
your ears, high above the ground.
Switch to an in-flight channel
and you’ll hear the moon resound.
The future is hard to surprise,
the past — a night sky to analyze.
Frost on the telescope’s lens.
No heart knows where it lies.
Keats Somewhere or Other
Turquoise torso, silver apples in your hands,
your skin is polished, a jewel behind glass.
Your arms extend like two aquatic fronds,
as if you were stretching your slender shoulders
or performing Javanese temple dance,
your eyeless head thrown back, perfectly bald.
You live in the basement — but what a basement! —
with a rapid reaction force of handbags.
Little daylight falls to this gold-rimmed place,
its chessboard marble floor with darker streaks.
And all this time I’ve been eating green apples
and stirring jasmine tea with Chinese steel.
So in what unseen workshop were you born?
Is there some resounding production line?
How many think your non-existent thoughts,
hold those silver apples, and make that shape,
stiff, blind, half-human figure with no mind?
Hold on, sorry, I’m going to have to take this.
Any idea where we are? No, me neither.
But let me cavort you down the long street,
down the rank of shops wherever it lies.
Clifford Geertz was meaning to swing by later
to talk about tools and cultural meaning.
We were thinking of meeting in Happy Asia.
Anna Akhmatova at Koblenz
Four days don’t seem like much
to write beside the Rhine.
Four days when we don’t touch?
Nothing some sweet white wine
won’t wash down the long river.
(But on its banks at dawn
I sit and slowly shiver
by hills the light has redrawn.)
Hannah Höch at Schloss Charlottenburg,
She stood where the Kaisers had perched,
watching the sky go lime and peach.
The domeless cream cupola and shelled yellow wings
looked fit to crumble at the snap of her finger.
Kurt Schwitters strode out of the unfurling trees,
waved, said something in English, then vanished.
A black loco steamed by on the girders behind.
From out of the cabin ballooned an orange eye.
She had walked from the northern suburbs. Times
were hard. A tank was parked at her garden gate.
There were no lemons to make lemonade with.
Onto the iron bridge strolled a figure in silver furs
and beige bonnet, half-hiding its head, all sleek
with green and black feathers. A fat yellow beak
poked out like a bazooka from a ruin. Webbed hands
pulled out a paper bag and began to fire crumbs
into the misty stillness of the carp pond,
where pale paddlers in striped bathing suits and trunks
flapped and splashed, whooped and hooted
as they hurtled towards that cloudburst.
Note: Höch, Hannah: 1889, Gotha — 1978, West Berlin; visual artist associated with the Dadaists; work included painting, collage and photo-montage. Under the Nazis, her work was treated as ‘degenerate’; rather than emigrating, she moved to a small secluded house in a North Berlin suburb, worth a visit if you’re in Berlin (advance booking necessary).
Pablo Neruda in Aylesbury
I walk through you now as if crossing
a rope bridge into the mist,
a hare creeping back to a habitat,
keeping to the bushes as a red kite
glides overhead. You’re a pitch-black room
I used to live in, a surface familiar
and strange to the touch.
Fragmenting clouds patrol the estates.
The grandchildren of Camden, Barbados, the Punjab,
Calabria, Cochin, Glasgow and Newcastle
chat in the terraces and the semi-detached dream.
Rains commute back every few hours,
a break between gardening programmes.
This week we’re in the Home Counties.
As far as we’ll get from any cliffs or beach,
end of a Grand Union tentacle
and an iron road to the imperial capital.
Fruit I had no need to peel,
streets I learnt like a mother-tongue,
I knew you before I could read maps.
Your roads trace Dark Age furlongs,
roundabouts — a cyclical view of history.
When I dig down into your earth I find
a ritually smashed-in skull.
When I stagger from your pubs at midnight I meet
a ritual of smashed-in faces.
I hear the bad punk song of your name in the White Swan.
Synthpop seeps into my ears. Howard Jones, are you there?
Bright records in a windswept backstreet
condensed into CDs in the warm centre.
I cycle the Amber Way towards
the Buckinghamshire Samurai.
We see through each other outside Smiths.
I have my tokens and tickets.
Elizabeth Bishop at the South Bank
The Thames lay ditchblack as the sky.
Presiding in silence, the white brick peaks
shone nickel and zinc in the winter quiet.
Next day, the granite agreed with the grey
billowing canopy leaking onto tower blocks,
those crags where solitary gulls might stay.
She thought of the water that deepens and grinds,
miles hauling mud where the coins are sparse,
where parakeets paint a London of another kind,
where she’d dozed and startled through the humid years,
and constructed rafts of log and liana, barques,
dugouts, diverse vessels for pilots to steer.
Jim Morrison on Mehringdamm
Meet me at Mr. Kim’s,
where the walls blare with song,
and the disco ball glints
where so many stars have shone.
Cross, if you get there first,
the constellations on the floor
constantly whirling. Request
some wheeling riff by The Doors,
or sink to the Octopus’s Garden
in the voiceless waters of the menu.
In this outlet in the dark,
this hidden, flaring trench
we’ll find the music of the Philippines,
and our number might come up later
when someone at the music machine
flicks through our scribbled paper.
Chums, that’s us. That single
mic on the stage is ours. The track
is Light My Fire. Now sing
till the long instrumental break.
from Earth Records (Nine Arches Press, 2012).
Order Earth Records.
Read Peter Riley’s review of Earth Records at The Fortnightly Review.
Listen to recordings at Archive of the Now.